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West Nile reaches St. Petersburg

West Nile virus has been found in a sentinel chicken in St. Petersburg, the second discovery of the mosquito-borne virus in about two weeks.

Julia Gill, epidemiological program manager for the Pinellas County Health Department, said test results Tuesday showed that a sentinel chicken was bitten by an infected mosquito in the Sawgrass Lake area of the city, near 66th Avenue N and Interstate 275.

"Mosquito populations are going down, but this is a new virus. We're not exactly sure how this virus will behave," Gill said.

Two weeks ago, a sentinel chicken near Tarpon Springs tested positive for West Nile.

The Health Department keeps flocks of sentinel chickens to test weekly for a variety of mosquito-borne diseases, including West Nile. The virus doesn't hurt the birds, but blood tests can show if they have been bitten by an infected mosquito.

Hillsborough officials also suspect they have found some more cases, too, after the first case was confirmed in a sentinel chicken off Fletcher Avenue.

In its most severe forms, West Nile can kill or cause encephalitis, a swelling of the brain. The elderly or ill are most at risk for complications. Most people will suffer mild flu-like symptoms and may never know they were infected.